All conventions are political

by on August 25, 2008  •  In Family law

As has happened this year with the upcoming AALS annual conference, professional organizations often find themselves having to navigate local politics and calls for boycotts when selecting a location for their annual meetings. The American Political Science Association is in the midst of such a debate now, over whether to proceed with the choice of New Orleans for its 2012 convention (these things are scheduled years in advance), despite the adoption by  Louisiana voters in 2004 of a state constitutional ban on recognizing any relationship status other than marriage. The Louisiana constitution states that "A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized. No official or court of the state of Louisiana shall recognize any marriage contracted in any other jurisdiction which is not the union of one man and one woman."

Ken Sherrill (Poli Sci, CUNY) is circulating a background memo arguing that these broadly worded anti-gay marriage bans are particularly insidious, because not only do they bar recognition of out-of-state marriages, they also can be used to preclude recognition of any non-marital relationship, including civil unions, domestic partnerships and registration systems from outside the U.S. For couples attending a conference in Louisiana (or 18 other states with similar constitutional provisions*), there is literally nothing they can do to provide adequately for each other's rights in a possible emergency such as hospitalization. [It's an excellent legal memo, btw. Its primary author,Julie Novkov (Poli Sci and Women's Studies, SUNY-Albany), is a lawyer as well as a potlical scientist.]

Sherrill's group has succeeded in getting APSA to adopt the following policy: "In locating its future meetings, APSA presumes that states with legal restrictions on rights afforded recognized same-sex unions and partnerships create an unwelcoming environment for our members in cities where we might meet….APSA would closely examine practices on a case-by-case basis in cities within these states to assess whether demonstrated positive local practices or other Association goals warrant holding our conferences there."  Sherrill and others are upset that, despite this policy, the 2012 conference is still set for New Orleans.

Question to readers: For those who belong to a professional association, do you know what its policy is or even whether it has a policy comparable to that of APSA? If it doesn't, maybe you should initiate one.

Note to law profs: The 2010 AALS conference is scheduled to be held in New Orleans. I'm sure it's too late to cancel or relocate, plus I confess that I feel a tug in the direction of supporting New Orleans economically with law professor dollars rather than boycotting that particular city.  But surely there is something that a gaggle of law professors could do while we're there to try to bring home the point. How about a SO/GI inquiry asking all New Orleans hospitals to adopt protocols for same-sex couples and to insure that hospital staff understand them? For any institutions that are reluctant, a friendly squad of law profs could offer to sit down with their GCs for mint julips and a chat.

* In addition to Louisiana, these states ban recognition of ALL non-marital unions, gay and straight: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, N.D., Ohio, Oklahoma, S.C., S.D., Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.  Among the more obvious convention cities affected would be Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Detroit, Cleveland, and Nashville.


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